Ben Jelen means well. He's a pretty, earnest, young singer/songwriter, whose sincerity oozes from every track of his polished debut, Give It All Away. Produced largely by the Berman Brothers, with a couple of cuts helmed by the Matrix and a track by Eve Nelson plus a handful of other producers, the album attempts to turn Jelen into an immediate superstar, a male spin on the sensitive female singer/songwriter who rose up in the wake of teen pop in the early 2000s. He seems tailor-made for the role -- he's very good-looking and has a sweet voice, so he's easy to turn into a pinup star for teenagers too old and hip for Clay Aiken, and he has a transparent emotional streak to shame Chris Carrabba. Musically, he's a curious blend of Michelle Branch, Vanessa Carlton, and Take That's Gary Barlow, crossed with Coldplay, whose intro for "Clocks" he cops on "Give It All Away." He sounds most comfortable on ballads, since it gives him the best platform for his earnestness, but they're hurt by their lack of tunefulness and po-faced sensibility. Like emo rockers, Jelen's defining characteristic is his emotionalism and sensitivity, and that fuels his music, whether it's on the ballads or the midtempo pop tunes with vague radio-ready dance beats, either provided by the Bermans ("Every Step") or the Matrix, who struggle to rein him in to their signature sound with "Christine" and "Stay," but can't overrule his formless sincerity. At times his earnestness is appealing, and Give It All Away illustrates that he has a likable voice and some solid musical ideas, but the album is brought down by an effort to make Jelen into something bigger than he is -- that is, a star. His songs are designed for a small scale and they would sound better unadorned, since the production overwhelms every cut here. Certainly, it's possible to hear his potential underneath that outsized production, but it takes effort. Ironically, instead of making Ben Jelen sound like a star right out of the box, the team of producers and concentration from the label make him seem smaller than life, which does a disservice to his music. He would likely make a bigger splash with a record much more simple and direct than this.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine